'Concrete action' needs to quickly follow Dawn Raids apology

June 15, 2021

​By Paige Faigaa - Paige.faigaa@pmn.co.nz

June 26th 2021 will be a date to remember for Pacific peoples in New Zealand.

The government will deliver a formal apology for the Dawn Raids at a commemoration event at Auckland's Town Hall.

Between 1974 and 1976, Pacific families were targetted in a series of rigorous immigration enforcement policies, suffering demeaning, verbal and physical treatment as part of the raids to find, convict and deport overstayers.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says while we cannot change history, we can acknowledge it and seek to right a wrong.

"To this day Pacific communities face prejudices and stereotypes established during and perpetuated by the Dawn Raids period. An apology can never reverse what happened or undo the decades of disadvantage experienced as a result but it can contribute to healing the Pacific peoples in Aotearoa."

Having lived through this traumatic period, a Tongan Community Leader says the apology must be followed by concrete action.

Manase Lua spent his early years moving from place to place with his parents avoiding authorities out of fear of being deported.

Lua says the government can show they're apologetic by offering pathways to residency for overstayers today. 

"For me it's finding those who are going through the same thing now, who are here illegally, find pathways for them, it's a pandemic, there's shortages in employment everywhere and the government always says be kind so here's an opportunity, let's not just use words but let's show how sorry you are."

Even at the time the raids were viewed as discriminatory, and Pasifika felt targeted and terrorised.

Giving voice to those feelings were the Polynesian Panthers, who aimed to fight racism in New Zealand.

Original member Melanie Anae says they don't want compensation in terms of amnesty for overstayers.

"That is a finite number and finite lives that may be changed but we're looking for substantive focus that will reach into the future for the generations to come 

Anae is calling for real and practical measures that will enable better education opportunities for young people.

"So we're looking at a transformation of the education system to include Pacific studies, Pacific history about racism, about white supremacy in the curriculum.

The Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio says the Government apology is an opportunity to promote a reconciliation process for those directly impacted by the Dawn Raids.

"The widespread public support for a government apology, makes it a timely opportunity to address the longstanding cause  for there to be a public and unwavering statement that the Dawn Raids were unacceptable and should never happen again, it cannot be tolerated."

However, a Pacific Youth Advocate Josiah Tualamali'i, who's helped organise a petition calling for the apology, wants it to be delivered in the right way. 

He says the dawn raids happened under both Labour and National governments. 

"An apology that honours what's happened in the past, honours the advocacy of the Polynesian Panthers where the government takes responsibility for what happened at the time, all of parliament takes responsibility for what happened in that place at that time and there's a commitment to Aotearoa being better generally."

The Dawn Raids show that the actions of the past have had a lasting negative impact that's still felt today.

But perhaps now the hurt and pain they caused can at last begin to heal.